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Impressive unanimity: The historical significance of Coleman v. Franken PDF  | Print |  Email
By Analysis by Edward B. Foley   
July 01, 2009
This analysis was published at MinnPost.com.

Now that Norm Coleman has conceded in the aftermath of today's unanimous Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, the eight-month-long battle to determine who won last November's election for the state's U.S. Senate seat is finally over.  Even as the concession eclipses the opinion in political importance—and appropriately so—the opinion will begin its life as one of the most legally significant resolutions of a disputed election in U.S. history. 
 
Its historical significance lies in the fact that it is the first appellate court resolution of a major statewide election after Bush v. Gore.  The seven-month dispute over Washington's gubernatorial election of 2004 resulted in a trial court ruling, but it was never appealed.  Puerto Rico's disputed gubernatorial election of the same year did result in a 4-3 decision of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court (as well as a federal appeals court decision declining to intervene), but that precedent lacks the direct relevance to future U.S. elections that today's decision has.

Today's opinion discusses Bush v. Gore and its treatment of that U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 2000 presidential election is the most important judicial analysis of that precedent to date.  The reason for its importance is that it analyzes Bush v. Gore in a setting most comparable to Bush v. Gore itself: a post-election fight over which candidate won more votes.   Citations to Bush v. Gore in other contexts, like pre-election disputes over how to count provisional ballots, are merely invocations of that precedent for whatever analogical force it might have.  Coleman v. Franken is a consideration of Bush v. Gore in a situation where it most closely applies. 
 
The Minnesota Supreme Court opinion, like the unanimous trial court ruling it affirms, holds that the Equal Protection principle of Bush v. Gore is not violated when a state statute provides a clear and specific rule for local officials to follow in the counting of ballots, even if some local officials fail to follow that clear rule.  As long as the local officials' failure to follow the clear and specific state rule, even if deliberate, was not designed to favor one candidate over another (or otherwise discriminate improperly among classes of citizens), that failure—while regrettable—is not unconstitutional.

Read the Entire Analysis at MinnPost.com
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